Former Mayor Kay Barnes Belle of Downtown Council Luncheon

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The H&R Block headquarters (center) and surrounding Power & Light District were hallmarks of former Mayor Barnes push to revive downtown after decades of neglect.

Former Mayor Kay Barnes, credited with launching the current downtown Kansas City revitalization boom in the early 2000s, will receive the Downtown Council’s top honor when the organization hosts its annual luncheon Jan. 24.

Barnes’ achievement is being recognized with the J. Philip Kirk Jr. Award from the downtown business and property owner organization.

Appropriately, the event will be held in the Kay Barnes Ballroom at the convention center. It was renamed to honor her last summer.

“Kay Barnes set the stage for this city’s revival that we are seeing continue to flourish,” Mayor Sly James said at the renaming ceremony in June.

“If it wasn’t for what she did, we wouldn’t have this situation that we have now. It’s just that simple.”

Former Mayor Kay Barnes

The annual luncheon, titled “Destination Downtown KC,” also will feature a “keynote conversation” between Jonathan Tisch, chairman and CEO of Loews Hotels & Co. and Jeffrey Jones II, president and CEO of H&R Block.

New York-based Loews has made a major investment and will be the operator of the $325 million Loews Kansas City Hotel now being built at 17th and Wyandotte across from the Barnes Ballroom. The 800-room convention hotel is scheduled to open in May 2020.

The Downtown Council estimates the number of downtown hotel rooms is expected to increase by 85 percent, from 3,414 to 6,415 between 2015 and 2020.

Tisch and Jones are expected to discuss the challenges to maintain or even accelerate the growth of downtown, according to a release from the Downtown Council.

A view of the South Loop area of downtown in June 2003 before the revitalization effort led by former Mayor Kay Barnes began. The chair sets in the middle of where the Sprint Center is now located. (Photo courtesy of Jennifer Bruning)

During her two terms as mayor from 1999 to 2007, Barnes laid the groundwork for much of the redevelopment that’s continuing downtown a decade later.

Her signature projects were encouraging H&R Block to build its world headquarters downtown and reaching a deal with the Cordish Co. of Baltimore to develop the eight-block Power & Light District adjoining the Block tower.

She also was responsible for pushing for the development of the Sprint Center, and campaigned on the project’s behalf with city voters.

The former mayor also advocated for many of the historic redevelopment projects that that transformed obsolete office buildings into hundreds of new apartments.

Jonathan Tisch, chairman and CEO of Loews Hotel & Co. (Photo from Downtown Council)

The event also will honor several people with Urban Hero Awards. They are Christopher Goode, founder of Ruby Jean’s Juicery; Cheryl Jimmi, executive producer of KC Creates; Christopher Harris, founder of Harris Park, and Kite Singleton, past chairman of the Kansas City Regional Transit Alliance.

The annual luncheon also will include a Spirit of Downtown KC Exhibit which will feature 50 booths highlighting new developments, businesses and the arts of downtown.

More information and reservations can be found here.

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